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One killed in Islamist attack against church in Turkey

Two gunmen stormed Roman Catholic Santa Maria church in Istanbul during Sunday mass. It is the first time the Islamic terrorist group targets a place of worship in Turkey.

FUENTES Associated Press AUTOR 5/Evangelical_Focus ISTANBUL 30 DE ENERO DE 2024 15:55 h
Church of Santa Maria, Istanbul. / [link]Viktoryuksel [/link], Wikipedia.

A 52-year-old man was killed this Sunday in an attack on a Roman Catholic church in th Turkish city of Istanbul.

Two masked gunmen stormed Santa Maria church in the Sariyer district during the Sunday morning mass. The rest of the people attending mass, included Polish consul general Witold Lesniak and his family, were unharmed, reported Sukru Genc, mayor of the Sariyer district.

The victim was later identified by the police. “He was a person who had done nothing wrong. In fact, he was not even Christian, he was Alevi”, the church’s lawyer, Avsin Hatipoglu told the Associated Press news agency.

The family told Turkish media he was not involved in politics and suffered from a “slight mental disability”.

Alevis identify as Muslims, but their practice is very different from Islam’s two major branches, Sunni and Shiite. They are one of the largest religious minorities in Turkey.

[photo_footer] Screenshoot from video footage of the attack, taken from a CCTV camera in the Santa Maria church. / IHA via euronews.  [/photo_footer] 


Islamic State group claimed responsibility

The Islamic State terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement. “We attacked a gathering of Christian infidels during their polytheistic ceremony, […] in response to calls by Islamic State leaders to attack Jews and Christians everywhere”, they pointed out.


Open investigation

Around midnight, Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya informed that two suspects from Tajikistan and Russia, who he described as members of the terrorist group had been arrested. Since then, police has raided 30 locations and detained suspects with alleged links to the shooting.

“We will never tolerate those who try to disrupt the peace of our country, terrorists, their collaborators, both national and international criminal groups, and those who aim at our unity and solidarity”, added Yerlikaya.

According to DHA, a private news agency, 51 people have been detained during those police raids, including 23 who were sent to holding centres awaiting deportation.


Official condolences

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Santa Maria’s priest, Rev. Anton Bulai and the Polish consul, to offer his condolences. Pope Francis mentioned the attack during his public Sunday speech at St. Peter’s Square.

Santa Maria church is run by an Italian Roman Catholic order of Franciscan friars. Italian foreign minister Antonio Tajani said he is following the situation along with the Italian Embassy in Ankara, and the consulate in Istanbul.

“I express my condolence and firm condemnation for the vile attack on Santa Maria church. I am certain that the Turkish authorities will arrest those responsible”, tweeted Tajani.

This is the first time that the Islamic State group targeted a place of worship in Turkey, but they already attacked a nightclub in Istanbul in 2017 that killed 39 people and bombed Ankara in 2015, killing 109.

Christians in Turkey also suffer pressure coming from other sources, including the adeministration. Some Christian leaders have been threatened, arrested, banned from entering the country and deported.


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